BWW Review: THE SCARLET LETTER at Theatre Harrisburg
The classic novel The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorn was first published in 1850. The musical is the creative collaboration of The Scarlet Letter Company - Stacey Mancine Koloski, Dan Koloski, Simon Gray, Michael Bahar and Eric Braverman. The Scarlet Letter musical was first fully produced for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and it can now be seen at Theatre Harrisburg for its first full-scale production in the United States. Under the direction of Kristi Ondo and musical direction by Aubrey Krepps, The Scarlet Letter takes the stage at Theatre Harrisburg's Krevsky Center through February 2.
This production is beautiful both visually and musically. The set leads the audience from a ship to the town to a jail cell to the forest to Reverend Dimmesdale's home and other locations in the settlement seamlessly. The lighting is used artfully to evoke the harsh light of judgement, the mysterious light of the forest (and the things that the forest hides), and the depths of emotion-from anger to shame to fear to love-exhibited by the characters throughout the show. The costumes are flawless-the costuming for Hester Prynne, Pearl, and Hibbins is particularly thoughtful and thought-provoking. Additionally, the props are intentionally chosen not only to fit the time period but also to act as symbols of the themes within the story. The sound engineer deserves a special round of applause for balancing the vocals so well-with the orchestra right next to the stage area, it can be difficult to ensure that all of the actors are heard equally well.
The orchestra, comprised of all female musicians under the direction of Aubrey Krepps, played the score in such a way that the audience can't help but get caught up in the power of the emotions behind the music and behind the story. The music is complex and multi-layered, and the orchestra and vocalists are very much up to the task of performing it. The cast is filled with amazing vocal talent-there are no weak links. From Joe Gargiulo's first lines in "City Upon a Hill: Prologue" through Christine Salazar's "The Journey: Epilogue", every word and every note is carefully crafted to draw the audience in and take them on this journey with Hester. One of the biggest compliments I can give to this cast is that every word was able to be understood-in a show that is mostly sung, this is a huge accomplishment, and I thank the cast, director, and music director for making sure that we could catch every word of this incredible musical.
Some of my favorite moments musically include: Tony Barber (as Dimmesdale) and George H. Diehl (as Chillingworth) in their duets, particularly "The Leech and his Patient"-their voices are well-matched, and their harmonies are intricate and executed beautifully; Christine Salazar (as Hester Prynne) and Becky Mease (as Hibbins) in "Come with Me", which took my breath away, not only because of their vocal performance but also because of the emotion they put into it; and "Who is that Man?", which is intense, heartbreaking, and yet strangely uplifting.
The acting is just as superb as the singing. Audiences will want to defend Hester and Pearl, applaud for Hibbins, and hold up a mirror to Winthrop, Wilson, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth so that they can see their own hypocrisy. Nia Koenig is spritely and winsome as Hester's daughter Pearl, bringing a sense of innocence and naïveté into a story focused on sin, shame, and the question of the difference between vengeance and justice. Joe Gargiulo and Andrew Vinton play Winthrop and Wilson with a strength that helps the audience to understand just how firm these male leaders are in their convictions. Tony Barber and George H. Diehl as Dimmesdale and Chillingworth, respectively, play off of one another well-as Dimmesdale's secrets eat away at him, Barber uses his body language, vocal cadence, and facial expressions to give the impression that he is literally shrinking, while Diehl seems to grow bolder and taller as the story progresses.
Christine Salazar and Becky Mease are powerful in their roles as Hester Prynne and Hibbins. As Mease's Hibbins unabashedly undermines the status quo set by the men in the settlement, the audience can feel the unease the other characters experience around her and the joy and strength she takes from their discomfort. As Hibbins encourages Hester Prynne to come into her own, to follow her own path, and to relinquish her fear of the condemnation of others, Salazar's Hester seems to grow in confidence and independence. These two strong female characters encourage us all to find our unique, independent voice and to own who we are and who we are to become.
I have to admit, I had difficulty imagining The Scarlet Letter as a musical. But this production is both timeless and timely. Given the opportunity, I would see The Scarlet Letter at Theatre Harrisburg again-along with the talented cast and crew, who bring the story and the score to life, there is a great deal to absorb-it is one of the most emotional, thought-provoking, and challenging musicals I have seen this season.
Don't wait to get your tickets-you have only one weekend left, and performances are selling out. For tickets to the timeless tale of The Scarlet Letter at Theatre Harrisburg, visit www.theatreharrisburg.com.
Photo Credit: Chris Guerrisi